The Vikings hailed from the north of Europe in what is now known as Scandinavia. Interestingly enough the term Viking itself can be translated to 'man of the bay' of course describing the home of the old Norse. The country of origin in Scandanavia mattered not however, whether it was Norway, Denmark or Sweden the term Viking was associated with pirates and raiders, this was a way of life for the adventurous Viking people. Another definition of a Viking is one who spoke Old Norse the language of the Viking people.
It is quite easy to think of the Vikings in just this way, pirates who raided and pillaged neighbouring island and countries, but this would actually be doing the Viking a disservice. The Vikings were just like any other civilisation, multi-faceted and embodied with their own morals and codes, the Vikings also had their own religious beliefs and social structures which defined how they lived.
The Viking age in European history ran from around AD 700 to after AD 1066 at the battle of Hastings. It was in around 700 AD when the old Norse language became commonplace, replacing the previous more primitive version. At the end of the 8th Century AD was when the Viking first starting their legendary raids, on England, Scotland and Ireland. Of course the Vikings went much further afield, into Finland, Russia, Spain and France among other countries, and as they grew more confident their travels led them even further.
During the Viking period many of the Vikings left Scandinavia and travelled to other countries such as Britain and Ireland. Many Vikings went hunting and searched for treasure in foreign lands. Other Vikings preferred settling down and living a stationary life. This led to the Vikings populating various island and countries, Iceland, Greenland, Scottish Islands and Ireland and England.
Of course the Vikings didn't just travel on raids, they were also prolific traders, travelling across the oceans to find precious metals, fabrics and other worldly items that were not available in their native Scandinavia. This helped to build the busy trade that the Vikings carried out, their travel and love of metals and far flung goods meant they were some of the busiest and daring traders of the time.
Vikings and boats were synonymous, the water and seas were travelled by the Vikings by various classes of boat. Read more about the Viking Boats >>
Life as a Viking child would mean learning many skills necessary for survival in old Norse society. Read more about the Viking Children >>
To stay warm in the Viking winters, required practical and warm clothing that also allowed free movement when working. Read more about the Viking Clothing >>
The Viking diet and food choices were wholly based on the local supplies, vegetables, animals and livestock were all common. Read more about the Viking Food and Diet >>
Death and funerals in Viking society were important, the passage to the afterlife, based on how brave your death was. Read more about the Viking Funerals Buriels and the Afterlife >>
The Vikings gods were numerous and many, from the Aesir like Odin and Thor to the lesser known Vanir and Jotun. Read more about the Viking Gods >>
The Viking home would provide a needed respite from cold Norse winters, and a place to eat and sleep all year round. Read more about the Viking Houses and Homes >>
The Vikings had a love of jewellery and in particular silver items, rings, armbands and pendants were all common in old Norse times. Read more about the Viking Jewellery >>
In old Norse times, your career likely had less options, but still there was some choice for the Viking freeman to choose from. Read more about the Viking Jobs and Trades >>
The Viking longboats were the vessels that allowed the Vikings to travel to far flung countries, whether to trade or raid. Read more about the Viking Longships >>
Viking men were famed for their warrior skills, their raids, and lesser famed for their farming, crafts and trades. Read more about the Viking Men >>
The Vikings had deep religious beliefs, in their gods and mythologies, in what is typically termed as a pagan religion. Read more about the Viking Religion and Beliefs >>
The Viking social structure was quite rigid and defined with a clear upper, middle and lower class with their society. Read more about the Viking Social Classes >>
The Viking period ran from 700AD to around 1066 at the battle of Hastings, with many important events landing inbetween. Read more about the Viking Timeline >>
Viking women were strong and independent, treated with great respect in Norse society and truly self sufficient. Read more about the Viking Women >>
To be a Viking man meant you would have to be brave, enjoy fighting, and have a taste for ale. Viking men were concerned with their reputation, they were often travellers, fighters, farmers and tradesmen who took pride in their skills.
Conflict, wars, and raids were all a part of life, and for Viking men to fight was to please their gods. In this way Viking men were rewarded for their bravery, should they die in battle it was considered a honourable way to die. Those that did meet their end in this fashion would live out the afterlife in Valhalla, or Folkvangr, both desirable realms to end your days in.
Despite the violence and war in Norse times, the Viking men were also in many ways very civilised. They would work together, build political systems and structures for their communities.
In old Norse times, the women were not only wives, daughters and mothers, they were also responsible for many things in their society. Viking women were strong and wise, they did not fight but often held the keys to the homes, organising and ensuring that daily life ran smoothly.
Viking women often managed parts of the farms, often tending to the animals. They would also cook and ensure the family had clothing and supplies. While Viking women did not have the power in society that women have nowadays, they were still given many rights and likely had much say in how things ran through a leading word in their husbands ears.
The Old Norse social structure
The Vikings like modern society, had their own social structure and hierarchy. This structure was quite clear, with the old Norse kings sitting atop of this hierarchy. Next were the Viking jarls, the noblemen, land owners or high status freemen. After the jarls, came the karls, the main population in Viking times, these people were the farmers, traders, and local businessmen, all freemen. At the lower rungs of Norse society, we had the thralls who had little to no rights, and were essentially a slave although typically well treated by their masters.
Social structure for the Vikings was quite clearly defined, and was considered quite important, even offering room for progression up the ranks from karl to jarl, and even from thrall to freeman.
The tools of the Vikings used to travel the vast oceans of Europe were the longships. The Vikings had multiple classes of ship, likely grown over time, from the smallest class longship the karvi, to the largest class the busse.
The Vikings even had party leading boats, known as drakkar, or ‘dragon ship’. These boats were typically the largest ship in the fleet and if you spotted a dragon head on the coastal waters you should likely panic.
Jobs and professions in old Norse times
In Viking times, professions were limited, with many men and women living off the land with a farming centric lifestyle. Some were land owners who had hired help effectively employers, many kept animals for food and dairy products also. If you weren’t born into a farming family then of course there were other options.
Fishing was another option for many Viking men, with plentiful rivers, lakes and nearby oceans. Fish were a common food for the old Norse, and this lead to many pursuing a profitable career in fishing.
Crafts and trades were also needed, with opportunities for blacksmiths, shipbuilders and fabric and jewellery makers.
If none of the above suited, maybe you would turn your hand to raiding, or be a kings guard if fighting was your forte.
The clothing and jewellery of the Viking people
Clothing in Viking times was functional for the most part, but their was of course room for some fashion and flair, which often came from the ornate Viking jewellery.
The materials used by the Vikings for their clothing were typically locally obtained materials, wool and linen were the primary fabrics with wool used for warm winter clothes and linen for lighter summer clothing. Leather was used but much rarer than wool or linen and therefore was often reserved for belts, straps and even shield coverings.
Viking homes and houses
In old Norse times, the home was the hub for many facets of life. The houses themselves were known as longhouses, and like their name they were traditionally slim and long with benches running along the inside and a central fire or fire pit in the middle.
The Viking people would eat, sleep, work and socialise in their home. Animals and livestock commonly lived at one end of the house and the benches would be used to sit and sleep on.
The diet and food choices of the Vikings
Being farmers the Vikings had a diet that was based on the food available to them. Livestock, fish and crops were of course the only source of food available to the old Norse people and all would be used to create meals.
One interesting fact is that drinking water in Viking times was a dangerous activity, and instead most Viking people would drink the weak ale they brewed. This ale was low in alcoholic content and suitable for every meal.
The Viking in summary
Life in Viking times was in all likelihood much more sedate than you would imagine. While the Viking people were of course famous for their raids and ocean travels, in everyday life they were much less fearsome.
Farmers, craftsmen and women, traders and travellers, the Vikings not only travelled to many foreign lands, but also made homes in many of the countries they visited.